Just because a golf course is in the desert doesn’t mean it has to be a giant sandbox. Desert Forest, about 30 miles north of downtown Phoenix, looks nothing like the “target golf” courses that visitors equate with the Southwest. Although only 67 of its 165 total acres are turf, Desert Forest is grass from tee to green. There are no fairway bunkers, no water hazards or out of bounds stakes, and perhaps least desert-like of all, almost no homes.
Robert “Red” Lawrence—who’d worked with Walter Travis on Westchester Country Club in 1919 and with Toomey and Flynn when they restored Merion in the mid 1920s—designed Desert Forest by leaving the native contours of the Sonoran Desert intact. No bulldozers pushed dirt around to create the fairways; Lawrence simply put grass seed down on the desert floor. As a result, it is considered the first “true” desert course, a landmark of golf architecture.
Most of the holes are straight, but both nines open with right-bending doglegs. The fairways are much wider than the encroaching desert makes them feel, and finding the proper spot from which to hit the next shot is crucial. The members are justifiably proud of the greens, which have always been fast and full of hard-to-see movement. That makes Desert Forest an outstanding course for match play; it has hosted numerous local and national events, including the 1990 Senior Amateur.
In 2013, David Zinkand redesigned the greens, put more rugged edges on enlarged bunkers, and enhanced the feel and flow of the green surrounds. “The routing and the way the course sits naturally on the contours is the genius of Desert Forest,” said Zinkand. Then, now, and always.